Coach Rod Sandberg’s message to the Whitworth football team ahead of its season opener was simply to have fun.
The message clearly sank in.
With a smattering of fans looking in at the Pine Bowl through chain link fences, the Pirates held the Puget Sound Loggers to 197 yards of offense, forced five turnovers and secured a 53-6 victory on Saturday to open what Whitworth hopes will be a four-game Northwest Conference season.
“We just love the game. That’s why we came to a D-III football school,” junior receiver Ethan Peloquin said. “So blessed (and) super grateful that we have a lot of supporters that help us make that happen.”
Making his first start with the Pirates, junior quarterback Jaedyn Prewitt completed three of his first seven attempts and led three first-quarter scoring drives: two that ended in Nate RaPue field goals and another that junior Dawson Ruhl finished with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Those scores gave Whitworth – which lost 34-23 last season at UPS – a 13-0 lead.
The Loggers appeared poised to cut the Pirates’ lead in half late in the first quarter when quarterback Murdock Rutledge faked a handoff and found Austin Knight wide open and behind the Pirates’ defense near midfield. Knight rumbled along the hashmark toward the end zone.
But senior Bryce Hornbeck wouldn’t have it.
“They gave good play-action, so really (Knight) was my guy, my responsibility,” said Hornbeck, who was caught out of position by the fake. “My mistake. I had to cover it up.”
Hornbeck caught up to Knight inside the 10 and poked the football from his grasp. It tumbled through the end zone for a touchback.
Whitworth scored on its next three possessions, including a 73-yard touchdown from Prewitt to Peloquin less than a minute before halftime, giving the Pirates a 30-0 lead at the break.
Hornbeck intercepted Rutledge on the Loggers’ opening drive of the second half.
Two plays later, Ruhl scored again, this time from 23 yards out, to boost the Pirates’ lead to 37-0.
With the game comfortably in hand, sophomore Kanen Ables and freshman Matthew Porras took over quarterback duties for the rest of the game. Prewitt finished 8 of 16 for 201 yards and two touchdowns, both to Peloquin.
“We didn’t really see a lot of looks practice-wise and in training camp,” Peloquin said, “so with the amount of practice that we had I think (Prewitt) played really, all the quarterbacks played really well.
“But obviously, there’s room for improvement so we’ll keep getting better, keep repping.”
Ables completed 1 of 4 for 24 yards.
Porras quarterbacked the final three drives of the game, finishing 1 of 4 for 6 yards.
The Pirates were content to run the ball after halftime, when freshman Isaiah Jones (10 carries for 70 yards) and Central Valley High graduate Chad Carlson (11 for 56, plus a touchdown) paced Whitworth’s offense.
The Pirates had the ball for 44 of the game’s 60 minutes.
UPS didn’t help its cause by converting 1 of 13 third-down attempts, losing two fumbles and throwing three interceptions. Punter Jonah Mendelsohn had to tame and sit on a high-snapped ball in the first half, and he had a long of just 28 yards on the six punts he did get away.
All game, it seemed, the Pirates consistently had great field position while the Loggers were buried deep in their zone.
Although the Pirates didn’t punch in as many touchdowns as they would have liked, RaPue earned the game ball having made all 10 of his kicks, including six field goals.
Whitworth’s game was one of just five across all of Division III on Saturday. More conferences – but not nearly all of them – are expected to begin play across the country during the next two months.
Next week, the Pirates are scheduled to visit Pacific Lutheran, their first road game of the year.
“It’ll be a nice change of scenery,” RaPue said. “I feel like we’ve been cooped up for too long, and I feel like we’re ready. I love traveling, and I’m ready to go.”
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